An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Merissa Reed, Middle School history teacher and student equity programs coordinator

This week I’m one of a group of Lakeside teachers and administrators attending the People of Color Conference hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools. Educators have come from all over the country to grow professionally by attending workshops, be inspired by speakers, and find connections with others. As an attendee and presenter, I’m wearing multiple hats: as a history teacher, Lakeside’s Middle School student equity programs coordinator, and as a white ally/colleague.  

It is wearing that last hat (as a white ally and colleague) that I chose to attend my first workshop: “Strategic Self-Advocacy: Deeper Learning Through the Application of Thinking Routines to Difficult Conversations” with speaker Maria Graciela Alcid of Gann Academy in Massachusetts.

Here’s three important takeaways I had from the workshop:

  1. Teachers of color at independent schools are at a higher risk of burnout than their white colleagues. Alcid presented research that the average tenure of a teacher of color at an independent school is 2.4 years. Therefore, Alcid believes allyship as essential to the longevity of faculty of color.

    Her presentation used case studies of microaggressions that were examined by using Harvard’s ‘Project Zero’ thinking protocols. For example, we examined a case using the protocol “Parts Perspectives Me.” Once we read the case, we answered the following questions in pairs:
  • What are the parts/ various pieces?
  • What perspectives can you look at it from (other than yours).
  • How are you involved? What connections, assumptions, interests, personal circumstances shape the way you see it?
  1. As a way to generate content for these difficult discussions around these topics, Alcid is putting together a database of case studies that can be used to create higher levels of racial literacy and cultural competency. By using real scenarios that occur in other schools, conversations can be discussed as theoretical and therefore more low-stakes. Collating these scenarios provides real value to the NAIS community as we continue to wrestle with how to have difficult conversations. Having case studies and structured ways to discuss them helps to slow down the conversation, explore multiple perspectives and gives room to ask questions which generates rich discussion with less risk. It’s a win for all parties involved.
  2. It is important to recognize that white fragility complicates this work. During her presentation, Alcid reflected on the “hot lava” of positionality (positions of authority) and fragility. Sometimes, when addressing racial bias, microaggressions, stereotyping, or other harmful workplace interactions, white people respond with defensiveness and fragility. Alcid referenced the work of University of Washington Professor Robyn DiAngelo, defining white fragility as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering defensive moves: Anger, fear, guild, argumentation, silence.” She paraphrased, saying “in other words, ‘I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me that you will give up’- and that is a form of bullying.” As a white ally and colleague, I had to consider my work as an ally versus accomplice and how much white fragility plays into my colleague’s ability to engage issues of race on our campus.

This is just the start of what I know will be multiple days of learning and deep thinking.